The Ottumwa Courier

July 12, 2013

The show must go on

By MARK NEWMAN
Courier staff writer

---- — OTTUMWA — Canceling a school play that has graphic language and adult subject matter does not have to turn into a fight, said the play’s director, if we remain flexible.

After reviewing “The Laramie Project,” administrators at Ottumwa High School and at the central office said they were uncomfortable producing a play with such rough language and adult themes. Superintendent Davis Eidahl said he wants to see plays the whole family could attend, including children.

A letter to the Courier from the Matthew Shepard foundation in Wyoming said they were disappointed in the decision.

“Students of all ages, whether they be in Iowa, New York City or any other part of the country, are living this ‘adult content’ of bullying, hatred and violence on a daily basis. They are much wiser and have seen more than many adults would like to believe.”

When the play was canceled, students and alumni began contacting parents, school board members and the media about the silencing of an important message. Eidahl agreed acceptance and tolerance were important topics; just because OHS wasn’t putting on the play doesn’t mean it would never be produced in Ottumwa, he said.

Natalie Saunders, the drama teacher at Ottumwa High School, said that was true. And that she has spoken to students and administrators.

“The play will be produced — at Bridge View Center,” Saunders told the Courier.

It will not be an OHS Drama Department production. However, the cast will consist of OHS students, who will work on The Laramie Project outside of the classroom.

The Matthew Shepard Foundation applauded Saunder’s decision to produce the play on her own time.

However, she said, the decision is not causing drama between her and her bosses. They’ve been supportive and respectful of her idea, she said. Even in private dealings between her and the administration, they never disparaged the importance of the play or its message.

She believes they are sincere in their belief that it’s just not right for the district and that they do support anti-bullying initiatives.

The Laramie Project will be the first play produced by a new group outside of OHS that will specialize, she said, in presenting thought-provoking works that may be considered too rough for a school stage. She said details on The Laramie Project will be forthcoming soon.

To see reporter Mark Newman’s Twitter feed, go to @couriermark.